By Israel Cruzado
Dec. 17, 2009
The term ‘Melting Pot’ was derived via a play developed by Israel Zangwill that opened on Broadway in 1909, originating the easily recognizable metaphor that glorified America. In brief, the main character, a Russian immigrant, celebrates his new home by pointing to the Statue of Liberty; with her magnificent torch, she exemplifies a nation whose glory rests on welcoming “all nations who come to labor and look forward.”
The term is more formally defined in A Dictionary of Sociology by Gordon Marshall as:
the idea that societies formed by immigrants from many different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups, will produce new hybrid social and cultural forms. The notion comes from the pot in which metals are melted at great heat, sometimes melding together into new compounds, with greater strength and other combined advantages.
Just as varied spices, seasonings and ingredients add flavor and quality to a recipe, varied cultures can bring a distinct and complementary flavor and quality to the workplace. The challenge for businesses lies in their “cooking” techniques and overall implementation for effectively blending their varied cultural “spices” into the organization.
Develop an Environment
For a company to establish and maintain a successful workforce enriched with cultural diversity, it must first create an environment which fosters key core values.
Core values should be defined by the company and well-communicated for all employees to fundamentally understand and support. At Harada Industry of America, Inc. these core values are contained within its Company Beliefs and Management Principles:
-¢ Respect for All Individuals
-¢ Maintain Utmost Levels of Integrity
-¢ 100% Customer Satisfaction - 100% of the Time
-¢ Commitment to Excellence in Quality
-¢ Listen and be responsive to employee needs.
-¢ Provide support and guidance to employees.
-¢ Lead with a positive, team-oriented attitude.
-¢ Train, develop and empower employees.
-¢ Ensure timely and complete communications.
-¢ Instill problem-solving & continuous improvement in all areas.
-¢ Protect information / materials of a confidential nature.
-¢ Support compliance and enforcement of company policies.
-¢ Be accountable and responsible for direct and related functions.
Also key to developing a supportive environment is to establish standardized company policies, to include policies that recognize and respect the various cultural differences of its employees.
Educating the Workforce
It does little good to establish an environment for supporting cultural diversity if cultural diversity education is not part of the main list of ingredients.
Cultural diversity education should focus on increasing awareness of cultural differences and emphasize the importance of respecting those differences. All employees, regardless of their culture or position, should participate in such training as it improves the opportunity for all individuals to fully understand and support the organization’s dynamic traits.
While it would be difficult to provide training for every aspect of every culture, it would serve a company well to focus initially on those areas of cultural differences that would have the greatest impact on individual and organizational effectiveness.
For example, at Harada Industry of America, Inc., (a Japanese-owned company) there are some obvious differences in business styles and approaches that are essential for Japanese and American employees alike to understand when working together. For example, within the Japanese culture, there is a perceived sense of “conflict avoidance;” whereas, within the American culture, the more “direct” approach to conflict is commonplace.
Even basic cultural clichÃÂ©s though seemingly similar, have different and sometimes even opposite meaning. The expression in the United States; “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” has opposite meaning in Japan where; “the nail that sticks up, gets hit.” With proper education, employees who might otherwise use these expressions without second thought, gain useful insight into understanding exactly how such clichÃÂ©s are perceived.
Engaging the Workforce
Beyond providing diversity/cultural education to your employees, it is vital to engage team members in a wide spectrum of forums and activities to help draw out the diverse perspectives and experiences that each individual can bring into a collective direction.
All facets of business require communications, planning and problem-solving where all participants interject their perspectives. Amidst differing perspectives, thought processes and approaches, interacting within a culturally conducive environment, where core values are supported and education is provided, will more likely result in added-value results for the organization.
Other means for strengthening the multicultural bond within an organization and which Harada practices, include; promoting employee membership in various ethnic, professional organizations, such as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) and attendance at cultural business events such as those sponsored by the Japanese Business Society of Detroit (JBSD).
In a supportive environment, and with a well-balanced mix of cultural education and employee engagement of its diverse workforce, a company will have increased competitive advantage for enhancing their opportunities to be successful and for maintaining a more enjoyable working environment.
Israel Cruzado is the vice president and CAO at Harada Industry of America, Inc., a global Tier 1 automotive supplier. This year marks the fifth time that Harada has been recognized as one of Metro Detroit’s Best & Brightest Companies to Work For. Israel can be reached at [email protected].